1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards
Gerry Broome  /  AP
Elizabeth Edwards has died of cancer. She was 61.
TODAY staff and wire
updated 12/8/2010 7:43:18 AM ET 2010-12-08T12:43:18

Elizabeth Edwards, a best-selling author and the driving force behind husband John Edwards' political career before it was destroyed by his infidelity, has died of cancer. She was 61.

Elizabeth Edwards reportedly was not in any pain and was surrounded at home in North Carolina by family and friends, including her estranged husband, a former Democratic presidential candidate.

Her death came at 10:15 Tuesday morning, according to a family friend. The scene was described as "very peaceful."

The friend said, "Elizabeth did not want people to say she lost her battle with cancer. The battle was about living a good life and that she won."

Family friends provided NBC News with this statement from the Edwards family:

"Elizabeth Anania Edwards, mother, author, advocate, died today at her home in Chapel Hill, surrounded by her family.

"Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence but she remains the heart of this family.

"We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life. 

"On behalf of Elizabeth we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family.

"In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wade Edwards Foundation which benefits the Wade Edwards Learning Lab." The Edwards' son Wade died in a car accident at age 16 in 1996.

When news began to circulate that Elizabeth had taken a turn for the worse and her cancer had spread to her liver, her family announced Monday that her doctors had recommended against any additional treatment.

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"She found out last week and is at peace with where she is right now,” PEOPLE magazine’s Sandra Westfall told TODAY co-anchor Matt Lauer Tuesday before Elizabeth passed away. “She has a home full of relatives, which is how she always wanted it. They are telling stories, looking at old photos, and having as many laughs as tears.”

Jennifer Palmieri, a close friend who worked on political campaigns with Elizabeth, confirmed Wednesday on TODAY that the end had come quickly. “It was just a week ago that she found out that the treatment was no longer working,” Palmieri told Lauer. “It was very quick.”

John Edwards, from whom Elizabeth Edwards separated last year after he acknowledged fathering a child with a former aide to his unsuccessful vice presidential campaign, was with his wife and their three children: Cate, 28; Emma Claire, 12; and Jack, 10.

During an appearance on TODAY last year, Elizabeth Edwards said that while it was difficult not to be able to “lean” on the man she once called “my rock,” she thought it was important to not shut him out.

“For the children she’s put on a brave face, and kept that relationship intact. He’s at the house this week, helping with the children, getting takeout for the family that is visiting,” Westfall said.

Image: Elizabeth Edwards
Saul Loeb  /  AFP - Getty Images file
"I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious," Elizabeth Edwards wrote before her death.

Agreeing with Lauer that it must be a difficult time for the children, Westfall said Elizabeth Edwards has been preparing them for her death for some time.

“She, years ago, starting writing a ‘dying letter,’ she called it, so she would have the advice to pass on and always be there with a mother's wisdom when she couldn’t be there physically,” Westfall said.

Elizabeth Edwards wrote two best-selling books, "Resilience" and "Saving Graces," about her long battle with cancer and the scandal surrounding her husband.

Elizabeth Edwards became an advocate in her own right for health care reform and for the poor, two issues that had driven her husband, too. In that work, she lacked his clout but also his baggage.

"Our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind," President Barack Obama said.

Boosting husband's career
Edwards was calculating and ambitious in her own right, as well. A shrewd attorney, Edwards contributed mightily to her husband's rise in politics and acted conspicuously to prevent his fall.

In a riveting moment from the Democratic presidential primary campaign, the couple stood together in apparent harmony and loving mutual support in March 2007 to tell the country that her breast cancer, diagnosed in 2004, had returned, spread and could not be cured.

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His campaign would press on, she said that day, because "it's important that the American people have the opportunity to have a president like him."

John Edwards quit the race after poor showings in the primaries that made Obama the Democratic nominee, and he and his wife retreated almost entirely from public life.

While she pleaded for privacy after revelations of his adultery, she also wrote a memoir — her second — that discussed how the affair repulsed her. She went on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to talk about it, but only on the condition that Winfrey not mention the woman by name.

"Nothing will be quite as I want it, but sometimes we eat the toast that is burned on one side anyway, don't we?" she wrote in the memoir "Resilience."

Edwards connected easily with the public and her battle with breast cancer resonated. She shared the most intimate details, writing and speaking about the pain of losing her hair and her efforts to reassure her young children about her future.

It was not her first experience publicly dealing with very private matters. She wrote in her 2006 memoir about the death of their 16-year-old son, Wade, in 1996 and the grief that consumed her for two years afterward. She spent hours at home watching the Weather Channel on mute and broke down in tears on the floor of a grocery store after seeing Cherry Coke, Wade's favorite soda.

"If in a restaurant, I felt Wade about to overtake me, I would go to the restroom" and take out his picture, she wrote. "If someone, anyone was there, I showed them the picture and told them about my boy. I know it made some people feel awkward — I could see it in their faces — so I was always sure to say how much it meant that they had listened."

Meeting John Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards was a Navy brat born in Jacksonville, Fla., and her experience attending school in Japan and living on military bases helped make her comfortable introducing herself to roomfuls of strangers.

She and John Edwards met in law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and married the weekend after they took the bar exam. He gave her an $11 wedding ring and borrowed money from his parents to pay for a brief honeymoon.

Even as John Edwards went on to make millions as one of the nation's most successful trial lawyers, they continued to celebrate anniversaries at Wendy's, where they had marked their first year of marriage.

Gary Pearce, who advised her husband's 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, remembered her as fragile and distant in the months before he officially joined the race as the couple grappled with the loss of their son.

But she became involved and outspoken about her husband's career once he bid for office.

"It was clear from the beginning that she was a full political partner with a lot of influence on him," Pearce said. "She was involved on a daily basis. She was in all the strategy sessions."

With the help of fertility treatments, Edwards gave birth to two more children, Emma Claire, now 12; and Jack. They joined Cate, nearly 20 years older than her new siblings. Edwards is also survived by a brother, Jay Anania, and sister, Nancy Anania.

Before her initial diagnosis with cancer, Edwards began writing a letter to her children with advice they could use after she died — such as how to choose a church or a spouse. The message became more poignant in her final years, brought home when Jack once asked who would be the grandmother to his children.

"We are not in denial," Edwards wrote in an updated version of her first memoir published in 2007. "I will die much sooner than I want to."

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Facebook message
On her Facebook page, Edwards had earlier posted the following message:

“You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.

“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.

“It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.

“With love, Elizabeth.”

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Video: Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

  1. Transcript of: Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

    LAUER: And good morning. Welcome to TODAY on a Wednesday morning. I'm Matt Lauer .

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And I'm Meredith Vieira .

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Elizabeth Edwards passed away peacefully in her home Tuesday surrounded by friends and family, including her three children, the youngest, Jack , just 10 years old. And her estranged husband, John , was there as well.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Elizabeth Edwards became an inspiration for millions of people as she fought cancer over the last six years, even as she watched her own marriage fall apart. In a moment, we're going to talk to four of her close friends who were with her in her final days. But let's begin this morning with NBC 's Norah O'Donnell . She's in Chapel Hill , North Carolina . Norah , good morning to you.

    NORAH O'DONNELL reporting: Good morning, Matt. It was just on Monday that we learned from Elizabeth Edwards that she was ending treatment for her incurable cancer. In the final day of her 61 years of life, we know that she was surrounded by friends, her siblings, her estranged husband and the reason she fought this battle so very hard, her three children. For Elizabeth Edwards , the end came at home late Tuesday morning, surrounded

    by friends and family who issued this statement: "We have lost the comfort of Elizabeth 's presence, but she remains the heart of this family. We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life."

    Ms. ELIZABETH EDWARDS: It's actually good to feel like you can be an inspiration to people.

    O'DONNELL: Tuesday, the president praised Elizabeth for her "fortitude and grace." California first lady Maria Shriver had a message for Elizabeth 's children, "Their mother was an inspiration to women everywhere."

    Ms. EDWARDS: I hope I have important things to say. Important support to give other people who are going through things as everybody does. And if you're going to make that tomorrow count, you have to buck up today.

    I'm Elizabeth Edwards and tonight I am very...

    O'DONNELL: We first came to know her as the driving force behind her husband, John .

    Ms. EDWARDS: I married him because he was the single most optimistic person that I have ever own.

    O'DONNELL: Sweethearts since law school, together the Edwardses also faced tragedy. In 1996 their oldest son, Wade , was killed in a car accident when he was just 16 years old.

    Ms. EDWARDS: The first thing comes to mind is I get a picture of him in my -- in my head, and I get the picture of his freckles. This was a righteous boy.

    O'DONNELL: And on the same day her husband and John Kerry conceded the election in 2004 , Elizabeth learned she had stage three breast cancer . She faced the disease head on, forging her own public identity, fighting for universal health care .

    Ms. EDWARDS: This is an issue that doesn't know political boundaries. It knows moral boundaries.

    O'DONNELL: And writing two books about her journey with the disease. When the cancer returned during John 's presidential campaign in 2007 , she refused to let breast cancer define their life.

    Ms. EDWARDS: We're going to always look for the silver lining . It is who we are as people and we'll continue to do it.

    O'DONNELL: But the Edwards ' 33-year marriage was rocked by scandal and this year Elizabeth separated from John after learning he'd cheated and fathered a child out of wedlock.

    Ms. EDWARDS: Every time something monumental has happened in my life and particularly the bad things, I've had him to lean on. And that was no longer going to be the case.

    O'DONNELL: For Elizabeth , it was always about her children, 28-year-old Cate , 12-year-old Emma Claire and 10-year-old Jack. She talked about them with Matt.

    LAUER: How have you prepared them for what you seem to be preparing yourself for?

    Ms. EDWARDS: Well, I don't want them to live every day of the remainder of my life with the thought that I'm dying. So I'm trying to just make sure we give them memories.

    O'DONNELL: And as the remembrances of Elizabeth continue to pour in, one friend said it best, ' Elizabeth did not want people to say she lost her battle with cancer, the battle was about living a good life and that she won.' Elizabeth Edwards is being mourned by many today. President Obama personally called Cate and John Edwards to offer his condolences and sources close to the family say that funeral plans will be announced soon. I'm told that the service will likely be held in the next few days, probably this weekend.

Timeline: Timeline: Elizabeth Edwards

A look at her life, her marriage, her advocacy and her illness.

Msnbc.com political unit | Link |

Explainer: What they're saying about Elizabeth Edwards

  • Image: Elizabeth Edwards at "Stand Up To Cancer"
    Matt Sayles  /  AP
    Elizabeth Edwards, shown at the "Stand Up To Cancer" television event at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., Sept. 10, died Tuesday.

    The passing Tuesday of Elizabeth Edwards after a long battle with cancer brought out many remembrances and expressions of sympathy from the political world and elsewhere.

  • President Barack Obama

    Image: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama
    Ron Edmonds  /  AP
    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama

    "I came to know and admire Elizabeth over the course of the presidential campaign. She was a tenacious advocate for fixing our health care system and fighting poverty, and our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind."

  • Vice President Joe Biden

    "Elizabeth Edwards fought a brave battle against a terrible, ravaging disease that takes too many lives every day. She was an inspiration to all who knew her, and to those who felt they knew her. Jill and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Edwards family as they grieve during this difficult and painful time."

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    Image: Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton
    Win Mcnamee  /  Getty Images
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Elizabeth Edwards. America has lost a passionate advocate for building a more humane and just society, for reforming our health care system, and for finding a cure for cancer once and for all. But the Edwards family and her legion of friends have lost so much more — a loving mother, constant guardian, and wise counselor. Our thoughts are with the Edwards family at this time, and with all those people across the country who met Elizabeth over the years and found an instant friend — someone who shared their experiences and offered empathy, understanding and hope. She made her mark on America, and she will not be forgotten.”

  • Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

    Image: Sen. John Kerry
    Win Mcnamee  /  Getty Images
    Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

    "This is very sad news, and the fact that it isn't a surprise makes it no easier to hear. Elizabeth Edwards was an incredibly loving, giving, and devoted mother, and Teresa and our entire family are grateful for the time we shared getting to know her in 2004. We have many wonderful memories of those days traveling the country and seeing firsthand Elizabeth's great affection for Cate, Jack, and Emma Claire. Today all those moments are rushing back.

    "The same day our campaign ended at Faneuil Hall, we saw Elizabeth head off to Mass General to confront this terrible disease. America came to know her in a different and even more personal way, as she fought back with enormous grace and dignity. She became an inspiration to so many. Teresa and I, along with our family, send our prayers and deepest sympathies to Elizabeth's family and the children she loved so much."

  • Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

    Image: Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
    Gerry Broome  /  AP
    Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

    "She was a passionate advocate for issues she believed in and a caring and loving mother. Her legacy should serve as an inspiration to all of us. Her life was not without tragedy and adversity, yet through it all she fought for her family and faced every challenge with courage, poise, and grace. Our thoughts and prayers are with her entire family, but particularly her children, Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack."

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
    Michael Reynolds  /  EPA
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    "She has stood as a pillar of strength and passion on issues central to our nation's purpose and future: an end to poverty and homelessness; justice for workers and equality for women; and affordable health care for all Americans.

    "For the past six years, she has waged her battle against a terrible disease the same way she fought in the public square — with energy, with tenacity, with dignity, and without fear."

  • Maria Shriver, California first lady

    Image: California first lady Maria Shriver
    Kevork Djansezian  /  Getty Images
    California first lady Maria Shriver

    "Elizabeth was a mighty warrior, and I've long admired her courage, her compassion and her personal quest for truth. She was a public servant, a dedicated mother, a tireless advocate and a loyal friend. She showed up to speak at The Women's Conference every time I asked, and our audience was always moved by the open and honest way she would share the struggles she faced along her journey. I hope her children know their mother was an inspiration to women everywhere — a truly great woman."

  • North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue

    Image: North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue
    Jim R. Bounds  /  AP
    North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue

    "I was saddened to learn of the death of Elizabeth Edwards. North Carolina has lost one of our smartest and most resilient women. My heart goes out to her family."

  • Joe Trippi, longtime Democratic campaign consultant recruited by Elizabeth Edwards to work for her husband in 2008

    Image: Joe Trippi
    Neilson Barnard  /  Getty Images
    Political Strategist Joe Trippi

    "She was out to live every single day. She was going to live every single one of them with all the energy and grit that she could. That's a big lesson that her life could teach all of us."

  • Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., majority leader

    Image: Sen. Harry Reid
    Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
    Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

    "Elizabeth Edwards devoted her life to fighting for those who needed an advocate, and her presence will be sorely missed. She inspired millions with her grace and optimism in the face of personal tragedies, using her own experiences to offer comfort and insight to others."

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